voigtlander antique camera

Quest For The Silvery Miracle (And Photography Tips From 1890s)

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Um, hi there!

Every once in a while I take off my imaginary hat and think: Wow!

With gazillions of camera-owners out there today, like, millions of them have taken up the profession of a photographer.

Have you ever thought, why?

I guess it´s deeply connected with the magical nature of photography (ooh, isn´t this sophisticately put?).

But. Let us go on and reveal the veil a bit. I´m going to tell you a long story short, but if you´re eager for more in-depht reading, you can start from the Wikipedia article.

So, who were these pioneers who pierced the secrets of photography? They were inventors. You knew that? So did I. But what made the discovery possible? It was the nature of these men. In fact, they were utmost curious, systematic and they had TIME.

In the beginning of the 19 century, already several techniques were used to create images. On 1827 or 1828, Nicéphore Niépce used a polished pewter sheet, that was covered with a thin layer of bitumen as a light-sensitive material. On 1830s, Louis Daguerre experimented with silver. On his photos, images appeared on the silver layer covering a copper plate that had been made light-sensitive by holding it in iodide vapour. After exposing, the photo was developed in quicksilver vapour, and fixed in a solution of cooking salt. Sim Sala Bim! The result was an extremely delicate reversed image that could be seen only in lateral light on the surface on the plate.

And the daguerreotype was born.

Still life with plaster casts, made by Daguerre in 1837, the earliest reliably dated daguerreotype

Sounds like a miracle, right?

The daguerrotypes were shortly complemented by ambrotypes (the slightly underexposed glass negative, that looked like a positive when placed on a black background)  and ferrotypes (the image appeared on a thin iron plate that had been blackened and covered with a coating of light-sensitive emulsion). These are all rarities today. Can`t be multiplied.

 

 Photography Muse, Where Are You?

There, having the means now, what to capture and inherit to the next generations?

When we observe those early images, we see mostly still lifes, landscapes and architecture. Why? The reason was purely technical. The light sensitive emulsion that covered photo plates required long exposure times. Like, very long. We are talking about minutes or even hours. See, it was a lot handier to photograph unmoving subjects until 1860s.

That of course doesn´t mean, that no portraits were taken. But for the cause mentioned above, models of that time had to stay extremely still for the clear photo to come out. You rarely discover a smiling face from that early period: it was much easier to freeze looking serious.

Now, imagine for a moment that you are THE Nicephore Niepce, and you´ve just invented the method to take photos. Yay! What should be on that photo? What would you shoot? Dam da daa…And the winner subject was…the food! Surprised?

Niepce`s still life photo of a table set for a meal in 1826 features a bowl, bottle of wine and piece of bread on a table (Szarkowski in Penn, 2001 p2).

Nicéphore Niépce, la Table servie (1826)

And that was just the beginning.

By 1937, Daguerre took his still life picture. Henry Fox Talbot and Hippolyte Bayard photographed theirs by 1840. Talbot also captured an image of an overflowing baskets of fruit in 1842 (Plimmer, C. 1988, p9). In 1846 he produced a series of still life photographs, entitled ‘Pencils of Nature` depicting photos of fruit baskets on patterned tablecloths.

Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece

 

The word photography means “drawing with light” in Greek. It´s true if you think about it. To create a photo, what do you need: light, subjects, composition. But it`s possible to make your photos talk about much more: the lifestyle, the realism, the meaning, the allegory. So nothing suprising in the fact, that those first photographers followed the examples of European still life oil paintings from 17th century in every aspect.

 

Into The Masses

Photographic plate was replaced by paper in 1880s and that was the time when portrait photography gained enourmous popularity. In July 1888 Eastman’s Kodak camera went on the market with a slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”  and 1901 Kodak Brownie was introduced to the mass-market.

Now just about anyone could buy a camera and go shootin` around.

Yeah…The miracle had turned into an everyday matter.

Photography Tips From 1890s

Out of curiosity I searched for the oldest photography books I could find in our local libraries. One of those was a handbook from 1890s “Photo Tutorial”, written by an Estonian photographer and teacher H. Tiidermann. (Images below are from that book).

What did I discover?Vintage photographer / foodiesjournal.com

Within nearly 200 years the technology has changed drastically, yet the principles of photography remained very much the same. Yep, you still need light, subjects and composition to create an image.

I translated these words of wisdom for you and hereby you are warmly welcomed to meet the “golden nuggets” of antique photography. I´d be most delighted to read your thoughts and comments about the subject.

 

Here it comes, Mr. Tiiderman`s advice to photographers:

* My general advice to everyone is patience and cleanliness. The patience because a hasty and sloppy person never brings anything into a completion. Even the simplest job needs to get used to and plainly having a look at it makes nobody a master. When the first attempts fail, do not think that you can´t become a photographer. Anyone with a will and understanding can do the job.

* antique camera / foodiesjournal.comYou should get yourself a camera, that is convenient to put together and bring anywere with you.

* Lighting is something you have to learn by practice, there are no firm rules and it isn´t always possible to check the clock.

* To phothograph a landscape in a truly beautiful way isn`t so easy as often thought. You look at a place and it seems very pretty, but looking at a photo of the same place, you notice only a half of the beauty there. The art of taking a landscape photo is in picking the right spot for shooting, where everything is in a great balance. For that an eye has to get used to observe and dismiss all the flattering colors and distractions. You also must make sure that the difference of the light and shadows won´t be too drastic.

* Taking the portrait. You shoud build the special chamber for taking the portraits that has large windows with great power of light. If that´s not possible, you should place your model in a way that avoids deep shadows on her/his face. You should place a white or black fabric behind your model or an object. That gives your photo a better taste than an ordinary wall. A piece of white sheet will do for a backdrop in a pinch, but you should make it damp, otherwise it will look too bright. If the fabric is not smooth enough, couple of people can hold it in place when taking a photo.

* When taking an outdoor photo, you should avoid direct light, also the complete side light – for the first option the face would look too bald and for another the shadows remain too harsh. The best lighting would be up-front and backside equally. In general, wrinkled and deep-eyed faces would do with more direct light and round smooth faces more upside light. Do not place your models too near to the backdrop.

* Every person is different with it´s own character, therefore a photographer should try to place the model according to it, or otherwise the model would look strange and even unrecognizable on the photo.

* Place a model with merry character more upfront faced and the dispirited one looking firm and a bit aside.

* In case someone has ears too big, or nose or mouth or some other limbs, that exactly do not go with beauty, then you should try to cover these with positioning. Wide-faced and big-eared should always be taken from aside, so that another ear is visible at the minimal or not at all.

* Often happens, that the hands and legs are looking awkward on the photos, so you should do what it takes to make these look natural. Hands may not be in fists, crossed, straight or squeezed together in some other embarrassing way. Hands should be placed freely and slightly together, or perhaps holding something. Its photographer`s task to set the model in a natural way, so that no body part remain in weird position.

* It´s a good practice to put a mirror in the direction of your models sight, so that they may set up their faces according to their liking and there´s no blame on a photographer then, when the face looks too serious or risible.

* Taking a close up head shot every move shall be visible. To avoid it, a head-fixer should be placed to the chair, wherewith you are able to give a headantique head holder for taking portraits / foodiesjournal.com an immovable and direct position. Head should be covering the fixer though, therefore it would not be seen on the photo.

* Set up your camera in a way that objective will extend over the models chest. Placing your aparatus lower, your model would have huge nose holes and tall neck on an image, when placed too high, the eyes would look like closed.

* Taking the bust photo, aim your objective at model`s eyes. When the model is tall-necked, aim a bit higher, short-necked a bit lower.

* About group photos. Make sure, that models would not look like soldiers in a straight line, that all of them are not looking into the same direction and do not place models with same color (especially in white) clothing together. Place obese persons and tall ones more in the middle, shorties more to the brink. When you have to arrange the models one behind the other on several rows, place taller ones behind the shorter models backs. They can look from left to right or the other way around, while the models in middle should look directly.

* Photographing architecure is better to choose a clear weather, interiors would use a clouded weather.

* Sometimes you need to take shots at night. Some sort of an artificial light is a necessity then. Candlelight and an ordinary lamp is too weak for that.

* You have to move away shiny objects from harsh light, pull down the curtains and also, cover your objective pipe-like, to avoid the extraneous light.

* Those rules are meant more for the professionals. Those, who are taking photos just for fun, can do much simpler.

 

That´s all, Ladies and Gentlemen. Don`t forget to leave a comment!

 

Click here and get access to my free empowering food blogging resources to download and keep.

 

∗ Head image credits: https://unsplash.com

 

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